Mackinac Center for Public Policy Executive Vice President Michael Reitz co-authored an op-ed published in the Detroit News Tuesday. The op-ed – written with U.S. Sen. and member of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) – explains why Michigan lawmakers should begin to address overcriminalization by adding a criminal intent provision to laws that are silent on the matter.
Michigan has thousands of regulations on its books that carry criminal sanctions, meaning people can be thrown in jail for unobjectionable acts they never realized were illegal. Reitz and Hatch draw attention to the story of Barry County resident Lisa Snyder, who was almost jailed after agreeing to watch her neighbor’s children before school so the neighbor could go to work. She was accused of operating an unlicensed daycare facility, something that could have landed her in jail.
Snyder’s story demonstrates why it is so crucial lawmakers impose a criminal intent requirement. Reitz and Hatch write:
Many laws fail to specify a criminal intent requirement, leaving people vulnerable to prosecution for committing a crime without intending to do so. For centuries, the legal system recognized that a crime consists of both a wrongful act and criminal intent on the part of the criminal. Words like “intentionally,” “willfully” and “recklessly” were commonly used to differentiate between an accident and an intentional, criminal act. This ensured that individuals were penalized according to their mental culpability.
Read the complete op-ed at the Detroit News.
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